Samella Lewis at Stella Jones Gallery
Dr. Samella Lewis, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in art history, is a Hampton University institution. Her long association with the university includes studying there (she's a 1945 graduate), transferring the International Review of African American Art (IRAAA) which she founded in California in 1976 to Hampton's management in 1992; and serving as benefactor and advisor to the University Museum. Readers keep an eye out for the upcoming 40th Anniversary issue of IRAAA, due in December 2016, in which an extensive Samella Lewis interview is reprinted for a new generation. — John Welch
Evolution, October 1 through November 30, 2016, Stella Jones Gallery, New Orleans
Over the course of a career filled with many accomplishments that have influenced and highlighted the relevance of African American and African Diaspora art, Dr. Samella Lewis has also mentored the careers of many in the art world. According to New Orleans gallery owner, Dr. Stella Jones, “There would be no Stella Jones Gallery without Samella.” As an enthusiastic new art collector when she met Lewis nearly 30 years ago, Jones recalls, “The first thing she told me, after seeing my collection for the first time, was, ‘This has no direction.’ ” Once Jones and her late husband, Harry Jones found that their passion was for African American art and artists, they decided to open an art gallery specializing in art of the African Diaspora. By then, Lewis was a friend and mentor and “told me what I needed to do to be great.”
Stella Jones Gallery just celebrated its 20th anniversary in August 2016, in its same downtown location on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans and has become a respected fine art gallery with a national reputation. Along with an anniversary exhibition, INspired: 20 Years of African American Art, Jones knew she must also honor and give thanks to her friend, so she offered Lewis a solo exhibition. Evolution opened on October 1st and features several new works, including sketches and figurative and abstract oil paintings. EJ Montgomery has several monoprint etchings of abstract, textured forms on view, as well.
An intimate artist’s talk preceded the opening with several collectors in attendance including, Dr. Dianne Whitfield-Locke, Dr. Melissa Nobles, David Spence and Theresa Easton, who all flew into New Orleans to help in celebrating Lewis. With little prodding from Jones, Lewis spoke of her early relationship with Elizabeth Catlett at HBCU, Dillard University, where Catlett taught drawing, painting, printmaking and art history. “She was my guiding light and the person who … taught me how to be brave.” “Without Elizabeth I probably would have been a regular teacher in third grade or something like that. That one person made a difference in my life.” To that, Jones responded, “You made a difference in mine too.”
As a surprise, Jones arranged for Lewis’ lifelong friend and 2016 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Leah Chase to stop by and join the talk. After a long hug they sat down and chatted about their lives and accomplishments, despite the difficulties of growing up in the South during the time of segregation. On the subject of art, Chase suggested to those who look at art but are sometimes confused by what they are seeing, “Look again and you’ll see something in that piece of work that talks to you. That makes you feel good.” Lewis countered “It’s not always supposed to make you feel good. Art… It’s supposed to be realistic. It supposed tell you something about who you are. It can help you understand the world around you, even though it might not be good.” Chase paused, “You never get too old to learn…That is so important.”
Stella Jones Gallery/201 St. Charles Ave. New Orleans LA/504-568-9050/www.stellajonesgallery.com